Today is the final Sunday on the Church’s annual liturgical calendar. Not only is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, not only is he our brother and friend, Jesus Christ is our God and our King. And so we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe—or Christ the King.
This celebration is a recent addition to the liturgical calendar, added in 1925 by Pope Pius XI as a response to the growing nationalism and secularism of the time. In 1969, the celebration was elevated to the highest liturgical rank as a solemnity and moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year.
So why does the Gospel for this day, taken from St. Luke’s account—Luke 23:35-43, present Christ to us as he was upon the Cross of crucifixion?
Here is what Saint John Paul II had to say…
“If it is assessed according to the criteria of this world, Jesus’ kingship can appear ‘paradoxical’. Indeed, the power he exercises does not fit into earthly logic. On the contrary, his is the power of love and service that requires the gratuitous gift of self and the consistent witness to the truth (cf. John 18:37)” (Angelus on Christ the King Sunday, 2001).
So, the way in which Jesus exercises kingship distinguishes him from the kings of this present age. And thus, his Kingdom differs as well.
For St. Luke, the Kingdom is not so much a geographical place as it is a state of being found deep within the believer.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, he records an exchange that took place between Jesus and the Pharisees. “Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, he [Jesus] said in reply, ‘The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you’” (Luke 17:20-21).
If we can hear these words of the Gospel anew and grasp this truth about Jesus and His Kingdom, it can change our lives.
The world expects its kings to rule with majesty and grandeur from thrones that shout victorious power and might. But the throne of Jesus is his altar of sacrifice – the cross – a paradox for the world and a sign of contradiction.
St. Luke tells us that the rulers who watched as Jesus died on the Cross sneered at him, the soldiers jeered him. This account of the passion and death of the Lord which shows the rules literally turning up their noses at Jesus recalls the treatment of the Messiah described in Psalm 22 and Wisdom 2. This is the way of the world which always opposes God’s ways. Let’s make sure it does not describe us.
The present age defines success using a measure that differs from God’s measure. The world cares about:
- How wealthy you are,
- The home you own,
- The car you drive,
- Your physical beauty,
- Your position and authority,
- The schools you graduated from,
- The schools you send your children to,
- The sports you follow,
- The arts you support, and so on.
God uses a different set of metrics!
- Do you love God above all?
- Do you love your neighbor as yourself?
- Are you faithful, a person of loyalty and honor?
- Are you a person of honesty and integrity, someone others can depend upon?
- Are you humble and gentle of heart, kind and compassionate?
- Do you hunger for justice and righteousness—aware of the needs of others, ready and willing to serve them?
God’s metrics are the qualities of the Kingdom of Heaven already on earth among us. We pray for it each time we recite, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” If we truly desire what we pray for with these words, then we need to be sure that we strive to integrate these qualities into our daily lives, to become better disciples, to become better parents, to become better spouses, better at whatever we do and whoever we are—all to the glory and honor of our King.
Jesus said to Dismas, the good thief, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Love conquers all things. The love of God defeated death and sin on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus was not his defeat, but his victory. For St. Luke, one already begins to enter the kingdom in this life by taking up and accepting the cross the Lord offers to each of us. And through that cross of Christ we will enter fully into the Kingdom and will reign with him when he returns, if we continue to confess Jesus as King until our death, not with words alone, but also with our very lives.
Into the deep…
Editor’s Note: Mass readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Year C) — Second Samuel 5:1-3; Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43.
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